Dave Duerson went to great lengths to preserve his brain, to further our understanding of traumatic head injury.
The 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears had their 25th anniversary last season. There were celebrations and parties and joyful reunions. Yesterday, many of those same big names were reunited again, but there was no joy, only sorrow and confusion, as they buried one of their own on the city's South Side.
Dave Duerson, a hard hitting safety on that Bears team, took his own life last week. Duerson, who had just turned 50 in November right around the time all the '85 Bears started appearing in Chicago again, shot himself in the chest in his Florida home Thursday night.
His method of death, along with the painstakingly detailed notes he left for his family, suggest that Duerson was a team player to the very end, going to some lengths to leave his brain intact.
As a member of the NFL Players Association, Duerson acted as a trustee on the players benefits board. One of his last acts on earth was to donate his brain to the NFL's brain bank, to be studied for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of trauma not uncommon among football players.
This disease is associated with depression, loss of cognitive faculties, and suicidal thoughts. Duerson had shown signs of all of these symptoms over the last couple of years, along with vision problems and memory loss.
Although he had suffered some business setbacks and personal losses, Dave Duerson was a man who seemed to have much to live for; he was engaged to be married, and was exploring several possibilities in the business and political arenas, including considering running for mayor of the city of Chicago as well as coaching positions in the NFL.
One can only speculate as to what convinced him to end his life at age 50, but the evidence suggests that he found the erosion of his mental acuity unbearable, especially compounded as it was by the depression associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Although, medical experts are quick to point out that at this time, there is no evidence that Duerson suffered from this condition, his ex-wife Alicia Duerson reports that he suffered several concussions in his career in the NFL, and would often complain of headaches and dizziness after games. All of these symptoms are known to be symptomatic of the condition.
Current studies of former NFL players' brains show an over 75% of those examined displayed physical signs of CTE. The league itself has become very vocal in it's concerns about concussion and brain trauma recently, as medical evidence begins to suggest it's far more widespread in former players than previously imagined.
In the end it's difficult, if not impossible, to understand the thoughts of someone who takes his own life. In this instance however, it's clear that Dave Duerson was hoping that he could help serve his fellow players, one last time. As for us, we can only wish his family and friends find peace, following their tragic loss.
And perhaps hope that through the efforts of his final hours, that some knowledge and understanding of brain trauma is realized.